The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was heading for a showdown with teachers' leaders yesterday over his plans to allow the faster dismissal of incompetent staff.
Despite union threats of industrial action over the proposals, Mr Gove gave a series of media interviews in which he went on the offensive against poorly performing teachers, warning that all who fail to improve their pupils' performance over a year could face disciplinary action.
In addition, he called for a longer school day and a potential cut to the long summer holidays.
He told ITV's Daybreak programme: "If you love your job then there is, I think, absolutely nothing to complain about in making sure you have more of a chance to do well." Cutting the summer break, he argued, would benefit poorer children as they "lose learning over the summer holidays".
Mr Gove's plan includes reducing the period needed to get rid of a poorly performing teacher from a year to a term. Asked on BBC Breakfast whether this would mean those whose classes did not improve would find their jobs in jeopardy, he replied: "Yes. It's their responsibility that children behave and children succeed."
As part of his reforms, Mr Gove also wants to do away with any limit on the amount of time that can be spent observing teachers' lessons and give them an annual assessment to determine if they are reaching key standards.
The two biggest teachers' unions are planning to take action against the proposals. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has embarked on a national work-to-contract against any worsening of their conditions. It is determined to keep a strict limit of three hours per year on the amount of time that can be spent observing a teacher in the classroom. The National Union of Teachers is also planning an "action strategy" to ensure the way schools carry out performance regulations is not "obtrusive".
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "What the Secretary of State of course fails to say is that there is no evidence that the current system is not working. What he does is quote a handful of unrepresentative headteachers who base their style of management on The Apprentice, rather than on good management practice, and want to be able to walk into classrooms and say 'You're fired'."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said there was evidence that teachers were already working 60 hours a week. She added that it was hard to see what extra time was available.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "We do not need to make it easier to sack 'bad' teachers. Those teachers who discover this isn't the job for them leave the classroom long before it gets to this stage. What we must do if we are to raise performance, rather than grab headlines, is to improve continuing professional development and methods of supporting teachers."